Vernacular Press Act, 1878

Vernacular Press Act, 1878

Racial bitterness which was the legacy of the revolt of 1857 was the cause due to which after 1858, European press always supported government on political controversies while the vernacular press remained critical of the British Policies. Terrible policies of Lytton, the then Governor General of India and his mishandling of the 1876-77 famine incident, led to widespread protest against the British Govt policies in India, in the Vernacular press. Thus, in order to control the strong public opinion and seditious writing which were spreading disaffection towards the Govt, the Govt came up with Vernacular Press Act, 1878 to repress the indigenous press. Although laws related to sedition were already in existence in form of Section 124 A of Indian Penal Code which was introduced in 1870 to tackle any form of sedition (very subjective term then and even today also) but introduction of such critical acts like VPA led to further restriction on Freedom of speech and Freedom of press in British India .

Vernacular Press Act of 1878, proposed by Lytton the then Viceroy of India (1876-80)was also known as Gagging Act and it was meant only for vernacular/ native language newspaper not for English ones.

Provisions of the Vernacular Press Act, 1878

  • District Magistrate was entrusted with the power to call upon the printer and publisher of any Vernacular newspaper to enter into an undertaking with the govt to ensure that they don t publish anything which may incite the public feeling or create disaffection towards the government or that may create enmity based on caste, religion or race.
  • Publisher had to deposit the security and in case of infringement of the provision of the act the security could be forfeited.
  • If the offence reoccurred even the press equipment could be seized.
  • All the proof sheets of contents of newspapers and magazines were to be submitted to police rather than judiciary before publication.
  • Decision of the Magistrate in such cases was considered final and no appeal could be made against such action in the court of law.
  • If the vernacular language newspaper could submit the proof to a government censor then it could get exemption form the application of the act.

The most criticised feature of the act was that, there was no provision for appeal and there was discrimination between European Language newspaper and the local language ones.

Indians and The Vernacular Press Act, 1878

  • To escape from the provisions of Vernacular Press Act the Amrit Bazar Patrika turned itself into an English Language newspaper from the original Bengali.
  • Publication of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's Som Prakash was suspended and after getting reassurance of allegiance towards the govt in written, it reappeared in 1880.
  • Dacca Prakash, Halisahar Patrika, Sulabh Samachar, Bharat Mihir, Sadharani and Bharat Sanskarak etc. were said to have been leading the seditious movement against the government and under the provisions of the act many of the papers were fined and the editors were jailed.
  • All the native associations and prominent leaders of Bengal and India irrespective of religion, caste and creed condemned the Vernacular Press Act, 1878 and demanded its immediate withdrawal.

Phased removal of restriction on Press

  • Cranbrook, the Secretary of State was not in favour of the idea of pre-censorship clause and later on it was done away with and a press commissioner was appointed to supply authentic and accurate news to the press.
  • The entire Vernacular Press Act of 1878 was repealed by Lord Ripon in 1882.

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